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“babe wake up the brand twitter accounts are being sooooo random”
The above tweet from Kelsey Weekman, Buzzfeed’s internet culture reporter, was referring to a specific trend but is basically evergreen at this point.
In the past year we’ve seen an influx in brand-only Twitter trends. It usually goes like this: one brand will tweet something out (it typically has a distinct formula) and then basically every other brand on the platform will tweet out their version of it over the next day or two. The pile on can be so quick I sometimes wonder if there’s a group chat where these trends are hatched.
Last year Amtrak started one of the biggest brand Twitter trends to date by simply tweeting the word “trains”. Brands like NASA, McDonalds, and even President Biden joined in with their boiled-down, one-word descriptors. It was a low-lift (and low-risk) exercise for brands to participate in.
Since then there have been a handful of brand trends on the platform. Earlier this month, RITZ Crackers tweeted “reply with a and i'll hand u a cracker”—it inspired hundreds of brands to do their version of what emoji the replier would be handed.
One week ago every brand was tweeting out “🤨” for some inexplicable reason.
I think it’s easy for people to say “all brand twitter trends are bad and annoying”—and people say it all the time—but I think that’s unfair. Even in the three examples above, there’s one question a brand could have easily asked themselves before deciding to participate or not:
Who is this trend for? And how does participating serve our audience?
When I asked my followers for their thoughts on brand trends there was a very clear theme: these moments rarely feel like they are for brand audiences and instead feel like a bunch of social managers trying to impress one another.
It doesn’t help that when someone talks about or pokes fun at brand trends the social manager response is usually a defeated, “we are burnt out lol” or “just trying our best”. Honest, but maybe not the most ringing endorsement for participation.
To me, the problem is not brand trends as a whole—it’s that most brands don’t take their core audience into consideration when participating.
An example of a trend properly serving an audience, is when GoFundMe took the “reply with a and i'll hand u…” format and used it to raise money. Instead of replying with a simple emoji, they said “Reply with a and we’ll donate $5 to a GoFundMe.” Not only did it raise awareness for their brand, but it also contributed to a good cause. They took a popular trend, and pivoted it to meaningfully engage their audience.
I talked to Zach Poczekaj, social media manager at Dentsu Creative and person behind the original RITZ Crackers tweet, about the trend he accidentally started. “I think the reply with a format was a ‘talk with me and I’ll talk with you’ moment between brands and their fans. Also, the numbers that so many brands saw were reflective of that—someone who works on one of the largest brands that joined the trend said that they’d never seen that many Twitter replies (800+ in an hour) that quickly! I saw another person say that the trend was an opportunity for their B2B company to connect and communicate with their followers at a different level. So I think this trend in particular helped a lot of people reach their target audiences.”
I am still looking for a consumer payoff of a brand tweeting “🤨”.
But, even so, what is the harm? Most of the backlash to the “🤨” trend came from other marketers or social media managers. If a brand wants to take a shot at relevance during a trending moment, the worst case scenarios are that their audience either doesn’t understand it or doesn’t see it. For social managers who are being asked to “go viral” and make a splash online, that risk vs reward likely feels worth it.
Shelby Jacobs, senior social strategist at Dentsu Creative, said it best when she tweeted, “the insatiable need to join in vs the mortifying ordeal of being part of it.”
Trends can be cringe, but they can also work.
A guiding light for me on whether to participate in a Twitter trend or not is always asking “Does this trend currently serve our audience? And if not, is there an easy way to tweak it so it does?”. I love how brands like GoFundMe and Star Wars personalized the “reply with a ” trend to make it relevant for their core audience. They got the engagement boost of participating while still speaking to their followers. Win win.
Oh, and if there is no way to make a trend relevant for your brand, I promise no one is going to remember the time you sat out of tweeting “🤨”.
"Does this trend currently serve our audience? And if not, is there an easy way to tweak it so it does?"
I love this question. It's part of my job to find trends for my clients but I am often focused on finding an opportunity and sharing it with the client that I forget to ask myself, how it serves our audience. Moving forward, I will ask myself this question when I am trending spotting.
Separately, I loved the examples that you provided with GoFundMe and Star Wars. I saw Starbucks take a fun approach by sharing drink recommendations. I shared my POV on the trend here: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:7040007939172032512/
I always enjoy your newsletters and recommend to my friends in marketing. Thank you for your great work and time!